Like other composers working with Lamentations, John Mundy used the names of Hebrew letters to structure his music. The Hebrew text of Lamentations begins each line of a verse with the same letter, beginning with the first letter of the alphabet: thus the the first verse starts with א (aleph), the second verse begins with ב (bet) and on through the alphabet. The tradition of attempting to convey this in musical works comes via the Latin Vulgate translation of Lamentations, in which each verse was preceded by the name of a Hebrew letter. In musical works these letters are often used to give room to the musical abilities of the composer—they function a little bit like the large letters in an illuminated manuscript.
Where Mundy's Lamentations differs from those by his predecessors is that, apart from the title and the Hebrew letters, he does not use the text of the Lamentations. Instead his Latin text expresses anguish about the schisms in the Roman Catholic Church that arose during the Reformation. This creative use of both the form and the name of Lamentations, in order to evoke the anguish which the Lamentations so powerfully express, demonstrates the extent to which the upheavals of the Reformation were perceived by Mundy and others in the sixteenth century as a disaster—comparable to the destruction of Jerusalem—and, indeed, a disaster for the Church's conception of itself as a New Jerusalem.
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